|Knaus is on the hotseat again.|
Embattled Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus insisted today that the parts confiscated from Jimmie Johnson’s Lowe’s Chevrolet during pre-qualifying inspection for the Daytona 500 were the same parts that passed inspection four times last season.
The c-pillars from Johnson’s car were taken by NASCAR after inspectors determined they had been illegally altered. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rulebook states, "steamlining of the contours of the car, beyond that approved by the Series Director, will not be permitted," and this week, the sanctioning body slapped Knaus and car chief Ron Malek with six-race suspensions, fined Knaus $100,000 and docked Johnson and team owners Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon 25 driver/owner points.
Speaking publically for the first time since the penalty announcement, Knaus said the car in question "did run all four (restrictor plate) races last year, and had been through inspection a lot. We do everything we can to build the best race cars we possibly can to bring to the race track, and that's what we do," said Knaus. "Unfortunately, (NASCAR) didn't like something and we've got to address that."
Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick has claimed the car passed all of this year’s pre-Daytona 500 template checks, only to be busted by a NASCAR official’s naked-eye inspection. “It was just a visual inspection," confirmed Knaus today. "We never actually got the opportunity to present that under the templates. There's a bit of subjectiveness to it (and) that's why we're going through the appeal."
Both Knaus and Hendrick know from past experience that templates alone do not determine the legality of a body. Hendrick Motorsports was sanctioned by NASCAR at Infineon Raceway in 2007 after being caught will front fenders that fit the sanctioning body’s templates, but has been illegally flared in areas not detected by the measuring device.
Knaus’ most recent suspension – if upheld on appeal – will be his third in the last seven seasons, making him the closest thing NASCAR has to a habitual offender. His repeated brushes with the law will almost certainly weigh against him when the Appeals Board meets to consider his fate, as will last year’s now-infamous race at Talladega Superspeedway when Knaus instructed Johnson to "crack the back" of the car in the event of a win; only to discover his comments had been recorded and played on national television.
Knaus contends the car he instructed Johnson to intentionally crash that day included the exact same c-pillars found lacking in Daytona last month. If so, what was he trying to hide? The Appeals Board will almost certainly want to know.
|Johnson and Knaus are focused on Phoenix|
The veteran crew chief said he is “deeply saddened" by the penalty, adding, “we didn’t expect this. It’s not the way that we wanted to start off the season. We will go after this thing, hopefully get it resolved and beaten and go back to business. Right now we are focused on getting through Phoenix and trying to win this championship.”
When similar violations removed Knaus from the pit box in 2006 and 2007, the No. 48 team’s performance was not adversely impacted. In fact, the Lowe’s Chevrolet team actually fared better at times with its controversial crew chief on suspension.
In 2006, Johnson won two of four races with replacement crew chief Darian Grubb calling the shots; posting an average finish of 2.5. The following year, Johnson managed only a 21st place average with Malek at the helm; an average impacted by a pair of crashes. It should be noted that before wrecking at Chicagoland Speedway, Johnson appeared to have the dominant car, leading 82 laps. In the races he finishes with Malek in command, Johnson boasted an average finish of fourth.